The biggest card game tournaments
People have played card games for centuries. Historians think some versions of cards perhaps even date back to ancient China.
The roots of the games we play today come from early forms of whist, poker, and bridge, which gained popularity in Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Competitive card play became more formalized in the mid-20th century – with the rise of bridge tournaments. Contract bridge, in particular, became a highly popular and competitive card game.
Poker also has a long history of competitive play, with the World Series of Poker (WSOP) starting in 1970 and becoming the most prestigious poker tournament in the world.
The 1990s saw the rise of a different form of cards: collectible card games. Games like Magic: The Gathering (1993) and Pokemon (1996) introduced the concept of organized play with tournaments at various levels from local stores to international championships.
And this century’s online revolution has seen the advent of digital card games like Hearthstone and Gwent. These games mix strategic card play with digital interfaces in global competitions.
Various other non-traditional card games, including Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokémon, and Cardfight!! Vanguard, have also developed organized play structures with regional, national, and international tournaments.
Why did these tournaments grow so big?
Professional players and teams emerged in the card game scene as tournaments offered bigger and bigger prizes. This attracted sponsorships and card players could earn a living through tournament winnings, endorsements, and streaming.
At first television was very influential. Then the rise of online platforms and digital versions of card games allowed for the expansion of competitive play beyond the limits of physical locations.
Online tournaments have become common, offering convenience, accessibility – and huge audiences.
But before all this, the wee deck of cards makes this kind of gaming very accessible. Unlike many other competitive sports, the costs of playing cards is very low with no need for special equipment. Players can start their journey to expertise very easily, and at a young age, making cards one of the worlds most accessible sports.
These are some of the world’s biggest card tournaments:
World Series of Poker
The WSOP is the most famous poker tournament – perhaps the world’s most prestigious game of cards. It has been held annually since 1970 in Las Vegas.
It attracts players from around the world for a wide range of events with different buy-ins and variations of poker. Some of the prizes are colossal.
Poker also has plenty of other high-profile events. These include the European Poker Tour, the World Poker Tour and the Aussie Millions events.
In addition, the UK poker site 888poker hosts live tournament series, featuring a variety of competitive events that attract a large field of participants.
World Bridge Championships
Bridge and whist are traditional trick-taking card games with a long history of competitive play. World championships involve thousands of players including a good number of professional players who make their living playing the game on the international stage.
The biggest are the World Bridge Teams Championships and the World Bridge Olympiad. These attract top bridge players from around the world, with different bridge nations qualifying their players through a series of multi-level championships.
You can find National Bridge Organizations listed in the Great Bridge Links Atlas here.
Magic: The Gathering (MTG) Pro Tour
Forget casino-style games for a minute, this game is all about a collectible card with a global following. Magic: The Gathering has developed a thriving competitive scene organized by an organisation called ‘Wizards of the Coast’.
The Pro Tour involves a series of high-profile tournaments that attract professional MTG players from around the world.
Hearthstone World Championship
Similarly Hearthstone, a digital collectible card game developed by Blizzard Entertainment, has its own massive World Championship event. Players have to first compete in regional and global tournaments to qualify.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Championship Series
The Yu-Gi-Oh! series revolves around this popular trading card game. The YCS is a series of tournaments held worldwide that attracts competitive players and fans.
Pokémon World Championships
The Pokémon Trading Card Game also has its World Championships. This event involves players competing in age divisions and includes both the Pokémon video game and trading card game.
What about other card games?
Whist, is an old classic game but doesn’t have organized tournaments to the same extent as bridge. Whist is more commonly played recreationally or in informal settings.
In contrast blackjack for a while had The World Series of Blackjack – a popular televised blackjack tournament. Today the game has a more localised profile.
Some casinos host regular blackjack tournaments and some even have ongoing blackjack leagues.
Meanwhile the card game baccarat is particularly popular in Asian gaming markets.
There’s no world event, but some casinos in these regions may host small baccarat tournaments. Macau, for example, has been known for hosting high-stakes baccarat games.
And in the online gambling world, some platforms offer virtual baccarat tournaments.
The future of card tournaments
Gaming experts say the competitive scenes for card games continues to evolve. The popularity of card games and the growth of organized play have led to the establishment of tournaments for a wide range of games.
This means more competitive opportunities for players – and more entertainment for those of us who like to watch.